MIAMI – Timberwolves coach and President of Basketball Operations Tom Thibodeau entered the season thinking, hoping his remade second unit off the bench was better than the one that vexed his team so last season.
Seven games in, he’s still waiting.
Whether they would play better if they played more or if they would play more if they played better remains the age-old question.
Thus far, Thibodeau has leaned on his starters, although not to the same extent as a year ago when Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns were 1-2 in the league in that category.
On Monday, his starting five got them back into the game by halftime during a 125-122 overtime victory after the Wolves spotted the Heat a 13-point, second-quarter lead.
“Just keep working at it,” Thibodeau said. “It’s not a one-time thing. You have to do it every day. Everything is performance related. You have to play well with the minutes you have.”
Before Monday’s game, veteran Jamal Crawford led the second unit in minutes played with 21 minutes averaged a game. Shabazz Muhammad played 17.5 per the first seven games, Tyus Jones and Nemanja Bjelica each played 15.4. Gorgui Dieng — 20th in the league in minutes played last season as a starter — averaged the fewest for the first five players off the bench, at 13.5 minutes.
In Miami, Crawford played 21½ minutes Monday night, while Dieng, Bjelica and Jones all played 14 or more minutes.
No reserve played more than Crawford’s 13:24 in Friday’s home victory over Oklahoma City.
“Thibs has a plan,” Crawford said. “Whatever he sees fit, that’s what we’ll be ready for. Whether that’s playing more or playing less, we’ll be ready.”
Towns sure didn’t look or sound well at Monday’s morning shootaround, but he started his 170th consecutive game — the NBA’s longest current streak — despite an illness he said is unrelated to the upper respiratory infection that sidelined Jimmy Butler for two games last week.
Towns alternately said, “I’m sick, as you can see I’m dying,” and “I’m fine.” He also said there’s no way he wouldn’t play.
“One-hundred sixty nine straight,” he said. “About to be 170.”
Miami center Hassan Whiteside missed his fifth consecutive game because of bruised knee suffered on opening night.
“Hopefully you get to play against the best of the best,” Towns said. “He’s a really good friend of mine. I just want him to be healthy.”
Color Heat coach Erik Spoelstra was impressed with the Wolves and summertime acquisition Butler.
“Shoot, they’re an impressive team,” he said. “They have a lot of weapons. They have a ton of versatility. They can play big. They can play small. They can play fast. Just a super physical brand of basketball and they have a lot of guys who can get their own, especially at the end of a possession.”
First-round draft pick Justin Patton is jumping in controlled situations and is waiting to move onto the next phase of his rehabilitation from foot surgery done in July. He hasn’t been cleared for contact yet.
“We want to take the long view with him,” Thibodeau said. “We want to make sure there’s a progression to it. He’s handled everything that has come his way so far. He’s doing the right things.”
• Former Wolves guard Wayne Ellington missed the Heat’s morning shoot because he was feeling ill, but played, entering the game early in the second quarter.
• The Wolves affiliations with China continue to grow: On Monday, they announced a partnership with O-RANGE SPORTS, a Shanghai-based youth basketball organization that will bring players and coaches to Minneapolis this season to see a game and participate in the Timberwolves and Lynx Basketball Academy camps.